Smart agencies keep their marketing and sales pipeline full, because it means they can be picky about the clients they serve. This helps them raise prices while protecting their team from toxic clients. Beyond focusing on strong positioning and consistent lead-gen, you’ll want to look for opportunities to optimize and up-level your approach to sales.
To up-level your sales process, you need to know where you are today—and this article will help. In my experience, well-run agencies go through three “sales tiers” as they grow. Most tend to do activities across multiple tiers, but they’re always working to move up.
As you read about the three tiers, consider where you are today—and where you want to go next. Related, consider where you fit into my Sales Selectiveness Continuum. [Last updated: April 2023]
Agency Sales Tier 1: Core Concepts
Every agency starts here. They’re helpful in the beginning, but you start running into issues if you don’t move up to Tier 2 (Optimization).
- [Clarity on Targets] Be 100% clear on who’s qualified. Use shortcuts like BANT or CRUX (or similar) to be on the same page.
- [Fast Failure] Commit to a “fast fail” sales process, to avoid wasting 1:1 time on poor-fit matches.
- [Incentive Alignment] Create an incentive structure that encourages the behaviors you want. For instance, if you want salespeople to cooperate on deals… don’t use 100% individual incentives.
- [Integration] Integrate your marketing and sales efforts so they fit together… and so they aren’t fighting each other. This includes having everyone on the same page about messaging (e.g., what your agency does / offers, including upsells), while leaving room for each salesperson’s improvisation.
Agency Sales Tier 2: Optimization
After a few years, agencies tend to focus on sales optimization. You’re still practicing the fundamentals from Tier 1, but now you’re looking at ways to delegate workload and manage the sales process beyond yourself.
- Continue practicing items from Tier 1, plus…
- [Define the Stages] What are the stages in your sales process? (For high-level ideas, see “Ownership by Stage” below.) Map those stages into the CRM, to create structure for each salesperson. Track KPIs around conversion rates for each stage, and typical duration in each stage.
- [Ownership by Stage] Get clear on who’s handling which step(s) in the sales process, and decide whether to specialize (e.g., prospector versus closer) or do a full or partial “full stack” approach.
- “Full-stack” would include: Prospecting, Qualifying, Consulting, Scoping, Proposing, Closing, Onboarding, Supporting, and Managing.
- [Ramp-Up Plan] Get clear on the new-hire ramp-up plan for each new person… and on quota attainment for existing employees.
- [Sales Management] Decide how you’ll manage the team for peak performance.
- Even the best salespeople need support on details, structure, and systems (including a centralized CRM that people actually use).
- The easiest solution is to do a weekly Sales Management meeting, where a sales manager helps salespeople troubleshoot challenges.
- Decide what needs to happen pre-meeting. For most agencies, that’s updating the CRM by a day or two before the call, so the sales manager can review for problems (whether mentioned by the salesperson or not).
- Be clear that the pre-meeting updates and sales-call notes ARE part of their job. Skipping the updates (or skipping parts of the updates) means they aren’t doing 100% of their job. But also consider where having a “sales assistant” can help the Hunters go back to Hunting faster.
- [Continuous Improvement] Improve… and keep improving. This includes adjusting your approach, as the team changes and as you learn from past efforts.
Agency Sales Tier 3: Varsity Level
Ready to be the best? It’s time to pursue Tier 3. You’re doing everything in Tier 1 and Tier 2, plus automating the process and up-leveling your team structure. It’s not just hiring the best salespeople; you’re hiring people who want to stay the best, through a commitment to professional development.
- Continue practicing items from Tier 1 and Tier 2, plus…
- [Roles and Structure] Evolve the sales roles and team structure as you grow. Typically this includes adding layers and adding support staff (e.g., sales management, reporting, proposal creation, onboarding handoffs).
- [Nurture] Use marketing automation (and even Sales Automation) to nurture leads and prospects that aren’t quite ready to buy yet. You can do this manually… but that would be a challenge, if you have big revenue growth goals.
- [ProfDev] Everyone can get better. The right approach varies by person and by agency, but it typically includes some combo of formal training (internal and/or external, as individuals or a group) and self-study (articles, books, conferences).
- [Readiness] Every agency hits unexpected problems at some point. Are you taking time to plan for the expected, so that you and the team have “space” to improvise the unexpected?
Applying the “Sales Tier” Concept at Your Agency
Work with your team to evaluate what you’re doing today, to understand which tier(s) you fit into today. Then, assess what it would take to move to the next tier. If you aren’t quite at Tier 1, consider how to get there. And if you’re already in Tier 3, how might you continue optimizing things?
Question: Which sales tier(s) are you in today?